The topic of integrated care as a healthcare model for primary care physicians seems to come up more and more. Integrated care, also known as collaborative care, can best be described as the blending together of two types of care. These are primarily physical and mental healthcare. This worldwide reform offers new arrangements and forms of office organization. Patients will be able to expect a more complete experience, especially when mental healthcare options are not always readily available in their area.
Primary care settings everywhere are implementing integrated health as the best possible scenario for seamless care. The end result is that this produces a solid, positive outcome.
However, there is a process involved to welcome in collaborative care. There are even some barriers to overcome so that this new model is successful in each ideal situation. Let’s take a look at five things that primary care physicians (PCPs) should do in order to streamline the introduction of this care into their offices.
1.) Seek Education on the Integration
Learning how to address mental health disorders is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to introducing an integrated behavioral health practice into primary care. This is why programs are available, so that physicians, nurses and other office staff are brought up to speed on the objectives that must be met. This educational effort ensures that they are equipped to manage an integrated practice.
2.) Set Aside Time in the Office Visit
Most primary care physicians have a routine with their patients during their scheduled office visits. However, if a good collaborative model is what the PCP is after, time constraints may need to be re-evaluated. To really go after successful patient outcomes, it is extremely important to allow for extra time. This allowance will be dedicated to mental healthcare during examinations and consultations.
3.) Learn How to Ask the Hard Questions
Many primary care physicians are only used to asking exploratory questions like, “How are you feeling emotionally?” And unfortunately, a patient’s typical response is usually, “Fine”. This is mostly do, in part, to the stigma that is still associated with mental health disorders. However, when making strides toward integration, this interaction will need to be more than a casual question thrown in after “Are you still having those headaches?” Physicians will need to learn how to dig a little deeper, alert to signs that a mental health disorder may be present.
4.) Make Mental Health Screenings a Priority
When integrating a primary care office, nothing can be as important as utilizing the proper mental health screenings. Making use of digital tools, like the PHQ-9, will be imperative. This will assist PCPs with finding the required answers to the right set of questions. Using software to screen patients will also cut down on the administrative time needed. Patients can easily fill out the surveys from their own smartphone. Some offices may even offer the convenience of a kiosk in the waiting room.
5.) Become Successful in Scheduling Outpatient Mental Health Services
A barrier that many primary care physicians run into is the lack of mental healthcare professionals in their areas. When it becomes fairly obvious that a patient requires a level of mental care that would not be available in a primary care setting, being able to make that referral should not stand in the way of what the patient needs. However, this is exactly why integrated healthcare is becoming so popular. It is often the only way to present mental health services to a patient in a particular area, without complete lack of access or a long waiting period. But it is also important to make sure that the PCP has resources available to provide outpatient options, should it be necessary. Online counseling services like BetterHelp may be a great way to start. This will be especially helpful if you don’t already have a mental health professional in your practice.
Mentegram already has a few success stories with customers who are currently incorporating integrated care. Most are also introducing mental health screenings into their practices. My Doctor Medical Group is located in San Francisco, and they specialize in providing primary care. They also offer addiction treatment, urgent calls and other services vital to a patient’s recovery. Dr. Jennifer Banta, the Director of Behavioral Health, states, “Our integrated medical practice has been using Mentegram for about a month, and I am very excited about the early results with this self-tracking tool in more fully engaging patients in their own treatment.” For even more details, read more about these screening tools and her success from our recent article with Dr. Banta.
The more common integrating behavioral health practices with primary care becomes, the instances in which a patient truly needs mental healthcare and does not have access to it will decrease. Plus, with software like Mentegram, the face of mental healthcare will forever change. Concerns about bridging the gap between mental healthcare and the patient’s continued interest in treatment will become a thing of the past. Won’t that be a fantastic day?